March 2, 2015 2 Comments
Re-reading: Sybelle Fischer’s Modernity Disavowed.
Fischer’s book is always refreshing and helpful. I realized how much it had influenced me when in a meeting with the author I told a story from the book back to her without realizing that I had actually learned it from her book. I came back to it today to review what she had written on the early Haitian law in chapters 11-13. Though she only made a few references to the 1816 Constitution, which is my focus, her in-depth study of the earlier ones, particularly that of 1801 (Toussaint Louverture’s) is crucial to my study on the Haitian law. Also helpful is how she projects these constitutions forward in time and see their implications for the rest of the 19th century.
While David Geggus (in his otherwise praiseful review of Fischer’s) claimed that Fischer “is somewhat less sure-footed in these chapters,” Sarah Franklin wrote otherwise: “As the reader might expect, Fischer’s analysis of Haiti in the context of the Haitian Revolution is particularly keen.” The dichotomy of opinions may well derived from the different ways both are assessing her contributions in this section. Geggus noticed Fischer’s historical misses, which he gathered all in two sentences (this is also the bulk of his criticism): Fischer is “unaware of the slave insurrection’s ambivalent stance on emancipation and, unjustly criticizing Blackburn, misrepresents the politics of Brissot and the Girondins on the issue. Saint Domingue did not have “more than one hundred different terms”(p. 232) for degrees of racial intermixture, and Haiti did not become “increasingly isolated”(p. 244) in the mid-nineteenth century.”
These are his objections, in my words:
1) We cannot assume that emancipation was always the central goal of all the leaders of the “insurrection” (notice how Geggus uses the term insurrection rather than “Revolution”). Not all who were later baptized as revolutionary leaders and founders of the nation of Haiti always fought for freedom from slavery. Realizing how other interests (i.e., Mulatto rights) and belief systems (i.e., slavery is not unnatural) were also common while the insurrection would necessarily portray a more sober picture than the one that mythologizes the revolution with an unison voice. At this point in time, most scholars following the literature, take this as common knowledge, thanks in part to Geggus himself (here, here and here), and for scholars like Jeremy D. Popkin.
Edited Note March 2, 2015:
I was reminded that Fischer addressed this same point directly in the first note of chapter 11. She wrote:
It should be noted that this account, which assigns primacy to the slave revolt in the Caribbean, is not universally accepted. David Geggus, for instance, has argued that Toussaint did not openly adopt the cause of general liberty until after Sonthonax’s decree of August 1793 and the Declaration of the French Assembly of February 1794 (David P. Geggus, “The French and Haitian Revolutions, and Resistance to Slavery in the Americas: An Overview,” in La révolution française et les colonies, ed. Jean Tarrade [Paris: Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 1989], 118). While I find this aspect of Geggus’s argument somewhat unconvincing (or at the least no less speculative, and more implausible, than the opposite argument), his insistence that slave resistance in the Caribbean derived important influence from the international movement against slavery is highly plausible and in keeping with the argument I am making.
End of edited note.
2) The French were more complicated. Fischer’s contention with Blackburn is on how he placed abolitionism as part of the French project of imperialism. See here for the quotes. Geggus, I presume, believed like Blackburn that the French abolition movement was closer to the European program for expansion than what it might look. I think Fischer is today on this side of the fence too.
3) Saint Domingue did not have a long taxonomy and numerous names for shades of color (I wish I could remember the origin of this thought. If you do, please, send me a note).
From my point of view, Geggus is correct on all counts. But it may be that these distractions, as he also wrote, do not take away from Fischer’s primary contributions: “Despite such minor blemishes, this is a wide-ranging and thought-provoking work that combines bold generalization with a profusion of arresting detail and ingenious argument.”
Sarah Franklin, differently from Geggus, focuses on Fischer’s powerful analyzes of Haiti’s postrevolutionary or postcolonial condition. Franklin explains Fischer’s contributions in this area similarly to how I see it.
She notes that the […] implicit incongruity of forming a society around both racial equality and national sovereignty could not be reconciled. Additionally, her analysis of Haiti’s post-revolutionary constitutions provides new, much-needed insight into the society. She notes that these documents clearly articulate the struggles that lay ahead for Haiti as it formulated its own identity at a time when Europeans were extending their colonies into Africa and Asia and scientific racism was increasingly viewed as a ba- sis for sound policy decisions. Moreover, within the Caribbean and the larger slave-holding world, Haiti was a contagion requiring quarantine and it became increasingly isolated. Thus, Haiti, founded on principles of revolutionary antislavery and personal rights, became consumed by issues of [the] nation and national sovereignty. “Clearly, ideas of citizenship, nationality, and rights of residence undergo severe changes in the first half of the nineteenth century” (244). As Fischer argues, the transnational ideology that provided the foundations of Haiti had to be cast aside, or disavowed, in order for Haiti to survive in a world that had chosen a path of borders and nations.
Franklin’s points in bullets (with my thoughts on reading Fischer):
1- Racial equality was incongruent with the European model of the nation, and thus, impossible to realize (make it happen) under European hegemony.
2- The early Haitian constitutions were more than constitutions (more similar to declarations of independence); they were documents that emerged from a collective of diverse people who were using the drafting of these constitutions as a way to assert their claims to perpetual freedom. The nation was not for them the bourgeoisie ideal that Genovese saw.
3- An isolated “contagion”: this point seems to diverge from Geggus, who clearly stated that Haiti did not become increasingly isolated, which I wholeheartedly agree in matters of commerce, migrations, etc. Yet, I also agree with Franklin and Fischer in that the Haitian nation missed out in the increasingly fast and copious connections that the new American nations (former Spanish America) were developing among themselves, with the U.S. and Europe. Look for example at the snubbing Haiti received in the 1823 Monroe Doctrine and then in the 1826 Panamá Congress. Even when France granted conditional recognition after 1825, Haiti continued being ignored by the U.S. and other American and European countries. And even when countries did recognize Haiti, it was more a token than a real recognition, which should have meant formal cultural exchanges, less lopsided trade, etc. So, we should not think of postcolonial Haiti as a backward (it had the most advanced laws) and isolated country, but when compared with the increasing connections and exchanges taking place across the Atlantic, Haiti was gradually falling behind, perhaps, until the 1850s, when a new migration project began, and its liberal government was praised in contrast with the previous one.4- Transnationalism turns inside out. This is for me an important issue, not so much because through this analysis Fischer looks into future ideologies of resistance used against the U.S. invasion after 1915, but because it provides a well-thought explanation for the oddity of the Haitian law at its beginnings, before it “turned inside out.” Franklin noticed, as I did, how Fischer’s idea of an anti-national transnationalism that was embedded in the writing of the early Haitian law helps explain the recurrent clause assuring the world that Haiti was not going to export its revolution. Such a clause was necessary because the Haitian law was, unmistakenly, a threat to other nations, not simply because it offered refuge to all of those who had been persecuted by European colonialism (i.e., Spanish-American patriots and runaways), but it diluted its borders with its vague attempt in defining who a Haitian was. If the enslaved families from North Caicos could legally call themselves Haitians, and taken steps toward assuring such an identity by boarding boats and crossing the channel of 130 miles separating them from Hispaniola, then, no nation, not even those who were not in the vicinity, could maintain its borders sealed; no country could articulate a monolithic vision of the nation while there was a nation without borders– better said, with borders that protected its citizens from outside threat, but was open to those who would come to stay as natives. The 1824 migration exemplifies this point. The party (the euphoria for the migration) was shut down when the American Colonization Society was able to verbalize, more persuasively than before, the threat that an open-borders Haiti meant for the U.S. imperial projects.
Another related point that Fischer offers, which might required more space, is the concept that the nation and the state grew gradually apart; that while the people and the law held on to revolutionary ideals, the state moved away, not simply because it became more authoritarian, but because it rejected the transnationalism that had given Haiti its reason to exist. Such a notion is also crucial for Robert Futton’s Roots of Haitian Despotism. It links to my study by helping frame the early years, prior to the 1826 Rural Code, at a time when the state was still weak enough for the nation (as opposed to the state) to be able to exercise disproportionate influence in domestic as well as foreign affairs.
Further reading (not included in the text above)
Accilien, C., J. Adams, Elmide Méléance, and U. Jean-Pierre. Revolutionary Freedoms: A History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti. Caribbean Studies Press, 2006.
Beauvois, Frédérique. “L’indemnité de Saint-Domingue: « Dette d’indépendance » ou « rançon de l’esclavage ».” French Colonial History 10, no. 1 (2009): 109–24.
Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick. Haiti: The Breached Citadel. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2004.
Bongie, Chris. “Monotonies of History‘: Baron de Vastey and the Mulatto Legend of Derek Walcott’s ’Haitian Trilogy.” Yale French Studies, no. 107 (2005): 70–107
Brière, Jean-François. “Du Sénégal Aux Antilles: Gaspard-Théodore Mollien En Haiti, 1825-1831.” French Colonial History 8 (2007): 71–79.
———. “La France et La Reconnaissance de l’Independence Haitienne: Le Debat Sur L’Ordonnance de 1825.” French Colonial History 5 (2004): 125–38.
Calarge, Carla, Raphael Dalleo, and Luis Duno-Gottberg. Haiti and the Americas. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2013.
Dash, J. Michael. Haiti and the United States : National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
Daut, Marlene L. “Daring to Be Free/Dying to Be Free: Toward a Dialogic Haitian-US Studies.” American Quarterly 63, no. 2 (2011): 375–89.
Daut, Marlene L. “Sons of White Fathers‘: Mulatto Vengeance and the Haitian Revolution in Victor Sâejour’s ’The Mulatto.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 65, no. 1 (2010): 1–37.
Daut, Marlene Leydy. “The ‘Alpha and Omega’ of Haitian Literature: Baron de Vastey and the U.S. Audience of Haitian Political Writing.” Comparative Literature Studies 64, no. 1 (2012): 49–72.
Dayan, Joan. Haiti, History, and the Gods. 1995.
De Briffault, E. Christian. “The Haitian Revolution, 1791–1803. Race, Slavery, and the Balance of Power: A Comparative Analysis.” D.A., St. John’s University (New York), 2004.
Dieudé, Aude. “Toussaint Louverture and Haiti’s History as Muse: Legacies of Colonial and Postcolonial Resistance in Francophone African and Caribbean Corpus.” Dissertation, Duke University, 2013.
Dubois, L. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Harvard University Press, 2005.
Eller, Anne E. “Let’s Show the World We Are Brothers: The Dominican Guerra de Restauracion and the Nineteenth-Century Caribbean.”
Fatton, Robert. Haiti’s Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002.
Ferrer, Ada. Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution. Book, Whole. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. “Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic.” The American Historical Review 117:1 (2012): 40–66.
———. “The Archive and the Atlantic’s Haitian Revolution.” Haitian History–Sepinwall: New Perspectives, 2012, 139.
Fick, Carolyn E. “The Haitian Revolution and the Limits of Freedom: Defining Citizenship in the Revolutionary Era.” Social History 32, no. 4 (11): 394–414.
Forsdick, Charles. “Situating Haiti: On Some Early Nineteenth-Century Representations of Toussaint Louverture.” International Journal of Francophone Studies 10, no. 1–2 (March 7, 2007): 17–34.
Gaffield, J. “Haiti and Jamaica in the Remaking of the Early Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World.” The William and Mary Quarterly 69, no. 3 (2012): 583–614.
Gaffield, Julia. “‘Liberté, Indépendance’: Haitian Anti-Slavery and National Independence.” In A Global History of Anti-Slavery Politics in the Nineteenth Century, edited by W. Mulligan and M. Bric, 17–36. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Garraway, Doris Lorraine. Tree of Liberty: Cultural Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2008.
Ghachem, Malick W. The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution. Book, Whole. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Girard, Philippe R. “The ‘Dark Star’: New Scholarship on the Repercussions of the Haitian Revolution.” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 36, no. 72 (2011): 229–47.
———. “The Haitian Revolution, History’s New Frontier: State of the Scholarship and Archival Sources.” Slavery & Abolition 34, no. 3 (2013): 485–507.
Gonzalez, Johnhenry. “The War on Sugar: Forced Labor, Commodity Production and the Origins of the Haitian Peasantry, 1791–1843.” Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2012. –
James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. Vintage Books, 1989.
Jenson, Deborah. “The Writing of Disaster in Haiti: Signifying Cataclysm from Slave Revolution to Earthquake.” Haiti Rising: Haitian History, Culture, and the Earthquake of 2010, 2010, 102–11.
Johnson, S.E. The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas. University of California Press, 2012.
Jones, Christina Violeta. “Revolution and Reaction: Santo Domingo during the Haitian Revolution and Beyond, 1791–1844.” Ph.D., Howard University, 2008.
Joseph, Celucien L. “‘The Haitian Turn’: An Appraisal of Recent Literary and Historiographical Works on the Haitian Revolution.” Journal of Pan African Studies 5, no. 6 (2012): 37–55.
———. “‘The Haitian Turn’: Haiti, the Black Atlantic, and Black Transnational Consciousness.” Dissertation, University of Texas at Dallas, 2012.
Kaisary, Philip. The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination: Radical Horizons, Conservative Constraints. University of Virginia Press, 2014.
Kaussen, Valerie Mae. “Romancing the Peasant: History and Revolution in the Modern Haitian Novel.” Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2000.
Kwon, Yun Kyoung. “Ending Slavery, Narrating Emancipation: Revolutionary Legacies in the French Antislavery Debate and ‘Silencing the Haitian Revolution,’ 1814–48.” Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2012.
Léger, Jacques Nicolas. La Politique Extérieure d’Haïti. viii, 207 p. Paris: C. Marpon et E. Flammarion, 1886.
Leger, Natalie Marie. “‘A Tragedy of Success!’: Haiti and the Promise of Revolution.” Cornell University, 2012.
Magloire, Gérarde. “Haitian-Ness, Frenchness and History. Historicizing the French Component of Haitian National Identity.” Pouvoirs Dans La Caraïbe. Revue Du CRPLC, no. Spécial (1997): 18–40.
Mayes, April, Yolanda C Martín, Carlos Ulises Decena, Kiran Jayaram, and Yveline Alexis. “Transnational Hispaniola: Toward New Paradigms in Haitian and Dominican Studies.” Radical History Review 2013, no. 115 (2013): 26–32.
Middelanis, Carl-Hermann. “Blending with Motifs and Colors: Haitian History Interpreted by Edouard Duval Carrie.” Small Axe 9, no. 2 (2005): 109–23.
Mongey, Vanessa. “A Tale of Two Brothers: Haiti’s Other Revolutions.” The Americas 69, no. 1 (2012): 37–60.
Munro, Martin. “Haitian Novels and Novels of Haiti: History, Haitian Writing, and Madison Smartt Bell’s Trilogy.” Small Axe 11, no. 2 (June 2007): 163–76.
Munro, Martin, and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw. Echoes of the Haitian Revolution, 1804-2004. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2008.
Munro, M., and E. Walcott-Hackshaw. Reinterpreting the Haitian Revolution And Its Cultural Aftershocks. University of the West Indies Press, 2006.
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Nessler, Graham. “The Shame of the Nation: The Force of Re-Ensalvement and the Law of ‘Slavery’ under the Jean-Louis Ferrand in Santo Domingo, 1804-1809.” NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 86, no. 1/2 (2012): 5–28.
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Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. “The Haitian Revolution in Interstices and Shadows: A Re-Reading of Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World.” Research in African Literatures 35, no. 2 (2004): 114–27.
Past, Mariana. “Reclaiming the Haitian Revolution: Race, Politics and History in Twentieth Century Caribbean Literature,” 2006.
Pisarz-Ramirez, Gabriele. “‘The Darkest Is Before the Break of Day.’ Rhetorical Uses of Haiti in the Works Fo Early African-American Writers.” Atlantic Studies 4, no. 1 (March 2007): 37–50.
Popkin, Jeremy D. “Race, Slavery, and the French and Haitian Revolutions.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 37, no. 1 (2003): 113–22.
Ramsey, Kate. “Performances of Prohibition: Law, ‘Superstition,’ and National Modernity in Haiti.” Columbia University, 2002.
Reinsel, Amy. “Poetry of Revolution: Romanticism and National Projects in Nineteenth-Century Haiti.” Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2008.
Scott, David. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Duke University Press, 2004.
Scott, Rebecca J. “Paper Thin: Freedom and Re-Enslavement in the Diaspora of the Haitian Revolution.” Law and History Review 29, no. 04 (2011): 1061–87.
Semley, Lorelle D. “To Live and Die, Free and French Toussaint Louverture’s 1801 Constitution and the Original Challenge of Black Citizenship.” Radical History Review 2013, no. 115 (2013): 65–90.
Sepinwall, Alyssa Goldstein. Haitian History : New Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Sheller, Mimi. “The Army of Sufferers: Peasant Democracy in the Early Republic of Haiti.” New West Indian Guide 74, no. I/2 (2000): 33–56.
Sheridan, Richard B. “From Jamaican Slavery to Haitian Freedom: The Case of the Black Crew of the Pilot Boat, Deep Nine.” Journal of Negro History, 1982, 328–39.
Silverman, Aaron Jay. “A Dark Spectre: The Haitian Revolution and American Politics.” Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, 2010.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past : Power and the Production of History. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2002.
West, M.O., W.G. Martin, and F.C. Wilkins. From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International Since the Age of Revolution. University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Wucker, Mchele. Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.